Desktop Publishing by Design, Ventura Publisher Edition. (book reviews)
by Robert Bixby
I bought this book, for about $25, a year ago in a previous edition for PageMaker. Even though I didn't have PageMaker, I gladly bought the book because I discovered, after checking every bookstore in town, that it was the only book on design that I could find.
Design is in the neglected corner of desktop publishing. Perhaps it's intentionally neglected because, with all the technological advances in desktop publishing, about the only way to tell a professional from an amateur publisher is by his or her grasp of design concepts. Like an alchemist from the Middle Ages, a designer's most precious possessions are the secrets left out of procedural notebooks. After all, where would we be if anyone could turn dross into gold?
One answer is that we would be surrounded by gold, which is not the way I would describe the situation in desktop publishing today. There's a lot of dross around, and precious little gold. The only thing that's changed since "Lasercrud" (an article in a desktop publishing magazine decrying the terrible look of homemade documents) is that a lot more people have laser printers and an even smaller proportion have any idea how to use them. Hence, more crud.
The fact is that the only way to really learn design is by doing it and by learning to look at designs critically. Desktop Publishing by Design takes the approach of providing dozens of pictures of exemplary design, completely documented with explanations of why the designs work and how to generalize the ideas you see illustrated. Then there is a section on Ventura Publisher in which you are led through the creation of the layout for various kinds of publications.
Although there are subtle differences in the two editions of Desktop Publishing by Design, the principal difference between the two is the 103-page section on Ventura Publisher projects. If you're already very familiar with Ventura and, like me, you bought the original edition of the book to learn design, there is no overpowering reason to buy the new edition. Furthermore, the new edition only talks about the GEM version of Ventura. Windows isn't even mentioned. For this reason, the book works better as a text on design than as an introduction to Ventura Publisher, even if you're completely new to Ventura Publisher for Windows or the Macintosh version.
Something else is missing, too. I love to read Ad Week's sister publication, Marketing Week, because it takes a critical look at real advertising (in print and on television). I have learned much from its discussion of unsuccessful ads (poor integration of graphics with text is the most common failing, with illegible or unreadable text following close behind). I wish the authors of this book had brought in a section--even a brief one--on layouts that don't work and layouts that almost work. I would have enjoyed watching a makeover in progress. After all, if you're a beginning designer, you'll most often find yourself fixing up your own mistakes, trying to get disparate parts of layouts to work (or at least live) together. A section on makeovers would have been more useful than yet another introduction to Ventura Publisher.
All this aside, however, Desktop Publishing by Design is an unparalleled introduction to the field that will be useful to any beginning designer or desktop publisher.